The History: Created in the late 1800s by an unknown Englishman, the Bamboo cocktail is a rare classic drink that doesn’t use a traditional base spirit; instead, sherry and dry vermouth play costarring roles. Its reputation was spread westward by a German, Louis Eppinger, who tended bar in San Francisco before moving farther west to manage the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan. His skill in mixing Bamboo cocktails there was called out in the 1908 bar tome The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them by William T. “Cocktail Bill” Boothby. Since then, many permutations of sherry and vermouth have fallen under the name.
The Update: Before opening his latest venture in Tacoma, en Rama, in April 2017, revered bartender Chris Keil (formerly of 1022, Hilltop Kitchen) was on a long backpacking trip, enjoying a bottle of Amontillado sherry around the camp. Its taste, he says, was a revelation. This aha moment inspired the opening of en Rama (the name refers to a style of sherry) and its sherry program, which is perhaps the most extensive in the state, with a nice selection in bottles and on draft. The latter includes kegs of manzanilla sherry (a type of finosherry) from Bodegas Yuste, used in the Bamboo cocktail. Manzanilla sherries are pale and distinctive, thanks to the echoes of chamomile (“manzanilla” is the Spanish word for chamomile), flowers, almonds and sea salt. Bodegas Yuste manzanilla is a dry, pale sherry, with an echo of the ocean and a yeasty freshness. It’s paired in the drink with Moscato-based Del Professore vermouth. After auditioning many sherry and vermouth combinations, Keil decided on this dynamic duo, due to “the weight and complexity of the two together.”
The Twist: While the cocktail originally may have included a single type of bitters, most versions since then have included equal parts orange and Angostura bitters. Keil goes with two dashes of orange, one each of Angostura orange bitters and Regan’s brand orange bitters, and then adds a dash of regular Angostura. The slight change adds a subtle uniqueness to the affair, matched by his garnish: two Castelvetrano olives, which play off the salty and savory nature of the sherry.
The Final Taste: Keil’s version of the Bamboo is exquisite because of its balance. The Del Professore dry vermouth—with its earthy lemon, chamomile and honey accents—mingled in equal parts with the sherry, lets both shine, underlined by the playful herbs and botanicals from the multiple bitters.
The Cocktail: Bamboo
The Bar: En Rama
The Bartenders: Chris Keil
Recipe: Bamboo Cocktail
Note: To make the Bamboo cocktail, you won’t be able to use draft Bodegas Yuste manzanilla sherry—unless you buy a keg, as they do at en Rama. Luckily, it’s also available bottled. They serve this in either a coupe glass or a Nick and Nora glass (a stemmed glass with a more cupped bowl than the martini glass’s flatter version, which helps to reduce spillage and looks a bit classier), named after the Thin Man movie series. (You can find both glass types at cocktailkingdom.com.)
1 1/2 ounces Bodegas Yuste manzanilla sherry
1 1/2 ounces Del Professore vermouth
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
1 dash Angostura regular bitters
2 Castelvetrano olives, for garnish
Fill a mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add all other ingredients except the olives. Stir well. Strain into a chilled coupe or Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with the olives.